NFL Playoffs Recap: Welcome to Underdog Weekend

Henry Standage
FiredUp Network Sports Writer


Sunday, January 23, 2022

Going into this weekend, many felt that while the Saturday games looked capable of being high-scoring, entertaining affairs, they would merely serve as appetizers for the blockbuster matchups Sunday. Cincinnati had already won their Superbowl-mounting a second-half comeback against the Chiefs to win the division, then ending a 31-year playoff drought two weeks later against the Raiders. Their season was already an A+, and that's a dangerous place to be in the NFL Playoffs. Coupled with the return of Derrick Henry, and Mike Vrabel's 8–0 coaching record with his team on eight or more days of rest, one could only assume the Bengals would be heading on vacation Sunday morning with their heads held high. 

On the other side, San Francisco had ridden a dominant first-half display, and a Cowboys coaching fiasco to earn a game against the Packers-a franchise they had knocked out three times in the past nine playoffs. Green Bay had been the most reliable team all year, and the feeling that, after all the drama, we were in Rodgers' version of The Last Dance was unshakeable. 


What unfolded on Sunday? The Titans sacked Joe Burrow nine times, allowed one touchdown and had more total yardage than the Bengals on 12 fewer plays. Naturally, they lost. Ryan Tannehill threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage of the game, threw another in the Cincinnati RedZone during the third quarter, and completed his day-from-hell by completing his interception hat-trick with twenty seconds left in a tie game. Rookie kicker Evan McPherson would make his fourth kick of the game, from 52 yards to send the Titans fishing just three plays later. The lesson from Bengals-Titans seemed clear. Ryan Tannehill is a good quarterback. Good enough to get you the #1 seed in the playoffs, with his team's best player sidelined by injury. However, having Ryan Tannehill as your quarterback will inevitably catch up to you in January. 


All of this mid-afternoon information seemed to crystallize the notion that there was no chance Jimmy Garoppolo would go into Aaron Rodgers' house and beat him. And he didn't. But the totality of the Niners competence, mixed with Green Bay playing as if they had spent all week watching Rodger's Jeopardy hosting tape, resulted in one of the more unfathomable upsets in recent memories. 

Side note: This is the first time that both #1 seeds have been sent home in the divisional round since Mark Sanchez conquered Foxborough and, wait for it, Aaron Rodgers set fire to the city of Atlanta back in the 2011 playoffs. 

Back to tonight's proceedings. Even with Green Bay putting up their lowest point total since week one, as well as every Packer receiver not named Devante Adams putting together an incredible audition to star in the next 'Invisible Man' movie, San Francisco still had to benefit from one of the more lopsided special teams plays in NFL playoff history. A blocked field goal to end the first half kept the game at one possession, before an epic punt block and touchdown return tied the game late in the fourth quarter. Kicker Robbie Gould would send the Bay Area faithful into ecstasy three minutes later with a buzzer-beating kick after a signature ground-and-pound clutch drive, of course, spearheaded by Deebo Samuel.


Rodgers and Garoppolo have both had their heir apparent drafted by their franchises in the past two years. One quarterback responded by reeling off back-to-back MVP seasons amidst a Wisconsin blizzard of self-initiated drama. The other kept his head down and put his team first. Garoppolo is now 31–14 as the Niners starter and 4–0 in the playoffs. As today's games taught us, the NFL will burn you if you try to take a lesson from one game and apply it to another, too quickly. Yet, in the case of Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo, it's hard not to feel like the sports gods sided with the good guy on this one. 


Onto Sunday.